The identity of California Cabernet Sauvignon has been a moving target over the last five decades. Trends come and go, but Cabernet’s nearly-synonymous place in the world of California wine is a constant. The balance of enhancing a wine in the cellar while letting its natural characteristics show through is a fine line; Cabernet in particular can be flypaper for practices geared towards increasing flavour and richness – not to mention price.
There is often a perception of Cabernet that the more you pay, the heavier the wine will be. This is surely true in some cases, but doesn’t paint a complete picture. A rich, complex wine is not necessarily a heavy one, nor prohibitively expensive. I wanted to take the variable of weight out of the equation as much as possible, letting price escalation instead show only increasing levels of clarity and specificity of terroir.
Cabernet can deliver not only powerhouse wines, but also easygoing, pleasant drinking experiences. Here, Cultivar’s Napa County blend shows a fresh, clean, linear profile at an impressively low price point. The Mount Eden Vineyards wine is a perennial classic, putting the herbal qualities of the varietal on display.
The finale is a tried and true benchmark, Martha’s Vineyard from Heitz Cellar. It exudes a deft and polished texture balanced with a rustic, powerful elegance; exactly what Cabernet Sauvignon wants to be. The extended maturation regimen pre-release gives consumers a substantially more complete wine from the outset, and its further ageing potential can be questioned by no one. To top it off, it is significantly more affordable than many blockbuster, blue-chip Napa Cabs. Martha’s truly has it all.
Good: Cultivar, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa County 2018 – 93 points
Better: Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains 2016 – 96 points
Best: Heitz Cellar, Martha’s Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville, Napa Valley 2015 – 97 points